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Images suggest Z-20 helicopter has entered service with China's PLAGF

Production versions of the Harbin Z-20 helicopter appear to have entered service with an aviation unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF), as evidenced by photographs published on Chinese online forums.

A Chinese Z-20 helicopter bearing the number LH953205: a serial number format indicating that this rotorcraft type has likely entered service with the PLA Army Aviation.

Although images of the Z-20 had previously emerged online, they had shown the platforms with either no serial numbers or only three-digit numbers, indicating that these were development or pre-production aircraft. The latest photographs, however, show two helicopters featuring serial numbers LH953201 and LH953205: the serial number format for aircraft in service with PLA Army Aviation.

The Z-20 is a medium utility helicopter in the 10-ton class. There have been many comments that the design is derived from the Sikorsky S-70C/Black Hawk, in part due to similarities in appearance but also because China bought 24 S-70C helicopters from the US in 1986: three years before the Tiananmen Square-related arms embargo was imposed.

There are, however, notable differences between the US and Chinese helicopters, not least in the use of a five-bladed main rotor in the Z-20 rather than a four-bladed one in the S-70. The Z-20 is thought to be powered by two WZ-10 turboshaft engines, each developing 1,600 kW, which would mean an increase of about 200 kW over that provided by the General Electric T700-701A turbines used in the exported S-70Cs.

Notwithstanding their age – and China’s inability to acquire spares from the US – the S-70C helicopters have been an important aircraft for the PLAGF because of their ability to operate at high altitudes. This is an important requirement for transporting and supporting troops along the Sino-Indian border and operating on the high plateaus in Tibet and Xinjiang.

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